At the end of January, Gawker Media owner Nick Denton said ad revenues would be up 10% over the same month last year. During the current advertising implosion, that’s remarkable. Consider that yesterday, Time Warner CFO John Martin said AOL’s display revenues were down 25% year-over-year.
So what’s Gawker doing right? Nick tells us that sponsored posts have been nice and sticking Google ads in clever spaces has helped, but that the major revenue driver has been branded site takeovers.
You’ve seen them. Built by Gawker’s in-house graphic designer, Chrissie Lamond, they are the site re-skinnings wherein Gawker re-shapes the entire look of its sites after a advertiser’s brand or product. On the site’s navigation bar, it says that the title is “sponsored by” or “presented by” the advertiser. Sometimes the blog’s own logo changes to the brand’s colours.
Here are three exampes from Gawker, Jezebel and Gizmodo:
Nick calls the units online media’s closest equivalent to the back-cover ads on glossy, high-end magazines.
They work because unlike banners on the margins of the page, they are impossible for visitors to ignore. This turns out to be OK because as far as advertising goes, the ads are actually very pretty.
Besides Google ads, Gawker doesn’t use ad networks. But publishers that do would be wise to copy the format. If ad-buyers can get on your site through an ad-network, they won’t buy from your direct sales team — and pay the kind of premiums a publisher needs to survive — unless the sales team can offer something distinctly different than banners or links.
Other options include “roadblock” ads, video ads or expanding banners. Of course, those units may get the job done, but they probably won’t fetch the prices publishers could get pitching the work of an in-house designer.
(Disclosure: Nicholas Carlson used to write for Gawker Media’s Silicon Valley gossip blog, Valleywag)